The unexpected consequence of the cost of living crisis hits UK’s recycling rate

19th April 2023

By Mark Hall

The unexpected consequence of the cost of living crisis hits UK’s recycling rate

Nobody wants your dirty recycling, thank you

If you don’t wash your recycling, it just gets burned or buried in a big hole in the ground.

That’s the stark message from a waste collection company that’s doing its very best to encourage greater recycling.

According to, too much-contaminated refuse in a lorry of supposedly “recycled” waste could mean that the entire load is rejected.

“It’s usually because people are too lazy to rinse out jars and containers,” says spokesperson Mark Hall, “but with the higher cost of living, we think people aren’t rinsing them out to save money on their water bills”.

What’s the problem?

Despite virtually every household and business in the UK having a special bin or bins to put their recycling in, the sad fact is that we’re just not very good at it.

If fact, the recycling rate for England has stalled at around 44% for the last few years, meaning that more than half of all rubbish still goes to landfill, or sent is for “energy recovery” (the harmless-sounding term for “setting fire to your rubbish to generate electricity and stacks of CO2”).

And the greatest problem from both domestic and commercial waste is contamination.

For paper and cardboard, it means that it can’t be recycled if the load is filled with takeaway cartons that still contain pizza crusts and food leftovers.

The same goes for recycling plastics. It can’t be recycled if it’s mixed in with other sorts of waste.

And if a lorry-load of paper waste is deemed to be too contaminated for recycling, it gets dumped.

The level for paper waste contamination is very low – about 3% – meaning that just a few households or businesses throwing food waste in with the cardboard in the belief that “they’ll all sort it out at the other end” could mean tonnes of waste heading for the furnace instead.

They can’t sort it out at the other end – that’s your job!

For plastics and glass it’s exactly the same. A quick rinse under the tap could mean the difference between recycling and landfill.

“Contaminated waste means time, effort and money wasted all down the line,” says’s Mark Hall. “And let’s not forget the loss of resources that could have been used again”.

What’s the solution?

The solution, of course, it to take better care of your recycling. But it’s not as simple as that.

“Yes, we should all try not to put food waste in your paper recycling, and to wash out containers, but these are difficult times,” says’s Mark Hall.

With utility bills going through the roof, many households and businesses are looking to say money wherever they can.

That means those of us on water meters are watching out for every last drop, “And why waste water rinsing out an empty tin, jar or plastic packet?”

Mark suggests dunking your messy recycling in the washing-up water at the end of the wash, or perhaps have a bucket of water outside the back door for just that purpose.

Or – and controversial opinion here – if you can’t clean your recyclable goods, then don’t. All we ask is that you instead put it in with your general waste where it won’t contaminate the recycling for the rest of your street.

“We recognise that people are struggling with just about every aspect of life at the moment,” says Mark Hall, “so sometimes we have to think outside the box.”

“And if that box is filled with leftover chippy tea, then put it in the rubbish bin, please.”